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USAF Airlift into the Heart of Darkness, the Congo 1960-1978 Implications for Modern Air Mobility Planners

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Research paper

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Airlift operations in Third World countries are always a challenge due to distances and lack of airfield facilities. USAF airlifters met that challenge three times in the Congo in 1960-64, 1964, and 1978. These operations serve as a blueprint for future air mobility contingencies. Since coalition operations are a vital part of U.S. strategy, comparing and contrasting Belgian Air Force operations in the Congo in conjunction with USAF operations are useful to anticipate the future. When the Congo gained independence in 1960 from Belgium, rioting and violence threatened white lives. The Belgian government tried to restore order and evacuate refugees. Belgian Air Force operations in July 1960 demonstrated improvisations to aircraft and a high operations tempo. But under pressure from the United Nations Security Council Belgium had to withdraw. The USAF entered the Congo with the goal of saving Americans and providing food to the newly independent state. On 14 July 1960 the USAF became the airlift arm of United Nations security force dispatched to the Congo from over 34 countries. The USAF continued to support the UN operation until 30 June 1964 when the last UN soldier went home. In the three years separating the start and conclusion of this massive undertaking, the USAF rotated troops and maintained the logistical lifeline the UN needed. However, the USAF conducted its most ambitious airlift in the Congo in November 1964. Internal revolts continued as rival groups sought to dominate the government. On August 4, 1964 the eastern city of Stanleyville was captured and American State Department personnel were seized. USAF C-130 aircraft flew Belgian Para-Commandos to the Congo and then on to a parachute assault on Stanleyville. A second jump took place 48 hours later. This operation foreshadowed future African adventures by the European powers.

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  • Military Operations, Strategy and Tactics

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